Applications of Satellite Imagery and Remote Sensing in the K12 Classroom

Chances are that if you are reading this blog you are interested in bringing the exciting world of satellites and remote sensing into your classroom. Over the past five decades NASA and NOAA have archived satellite imagery and datasets and there is high interest in educators using these resources from both agencies. However, the challenge to the precollege community over the years has been one of both acquiring the technical skills to retrieve such imagery and data, and having the computer power to acquire and store such large files. The good news is that while aerospace engineers and scientists have launched an array of Earth observing satellites over the years, the computer and information technology community have developed affordable hardware so that now teachers and students can access the same imagery and datasets that scientists can ... and it continues to grow! There are several terabytes of earth data being transmitted to ground stations now every day. This is known as "Big Data".

Using real time imagery and remote sensing data in the classroom provides opportunities to do authentic science projects that support and promote the earth sciences, and often referred to as earth system science. STEM education and the NGSS are two national science/education initiatives that support these innovative types of activities. An educational strategy that I have developed is the SPACE to EARTH: EARTH to SPACE (SEES) Model. Our GPM/GLOBE Validation Project is a perfect example of this strategy. Students (and teachers and citizen scientists) for the first time have the ability to conduct investigations looking down from space, and by looking up from the ground. As we have learned, validation of imagery and datasets are extremely important, and we can all … teachers, students, and citizen scientists, participate in this process through field studies, or “ground validation”.

I am including three sources of where you can acquire satellite imagery and datasets (free!).

The first is a satellite image from 19 February 2015 taken by the Suomi-NPP satellite. There are three other satellites that you can near-real time images from. They are AQUA, and TERRA. Through an app (for apple products only … sorry) called SatCam available for free at the App Store, you can participate in a true SEES Model activity, and get a fantastic satellite image! The app uses your GPS location (provided by your iPhone or iPad) to determine your location. The image is centered on your location. You are notified when the satellite overpass at your location happens. So the picture here is of New Jersey (my location). What is very noticeable is the snow cover over the region.


The second example can either come from the SatCam “ground view” photo, or can be a picture from your smart phone. This view is of the Delaware River taken from our WeatherBug camera. Look for the ice flow and Philly on the background. Record lows were recorded in our region last night. You now have a view from space, and a view from earth. Using other GLOBE Atmosphere protocols, such as temperature and cloud observations, you are building a fairly comprehensive dataset. NOAA refers to this as “environmental intelligence”.


The third is Google Earth. GPM datasets (KML files) are available as layers. At this point, one can investigate and compare the relationships from three perspectives, i.e. satellite imagery, in situ observations, and computer visualizations.  


There is still work to be accomplished. Unfortunately the Earth Sciences are often view as “non-rigorous”. If we all establish a “Geoscience and Remote Sensing Laboratory” in our classrooms, it may cause this notion to be challenged … as it should be. Innovation is often challenging ... but that’s what Master Teachers do!

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